I am overwhelmingly grateful to have been sitting “at memory’s table” my entire life. By that I mean, though my parents had moved me and my siblings to several states and back to Texas by the time I was in 4th grade, the people in my life were stable and family connections were so strong that absorbing our shared history was unavoidable. And food was inseparable from that.
|Orsak family reunion|
My parents are fascinated by both history and food. My maternal grandmother lived in her house (and her kitchen) for over 70 years. All branches of my grandparents’ families have had reunions—for decades and decades—with fantastic food. Though my parents were adventurous eaters, we definitely grew up with weeknight staple meals that all my siblings can name and remember. Tradition is extremely important for us, resulting in a Christmas eve meal that includes dishes served continuously for over a century. Historically people have lived a long time in my family, so my parents and I and my children all grew up loving and hearing stories of the past from older, sometimes much older, people. I grew up with a strong ethnic background (Texas Czech) which grounded me in a particular community with its own history and food traditions. Each of these forces has shaped my obsessions with food, with family connections, with the vestiges of history present all around us at every moment if we're open to them, either by knowledge or by memory.
|Chicken noodle soup at the Victoria Czech Fest|
Eating ginger cookies reminds me of my great aunt Bessie, who used to make sweet handmade crafts. Scrambled egg sandwiches are comforting to me because I associate them with being taken care of by my mother when recovering from an upset stomach. Czech chicken noodle soup makes me think of the joy and togetherness of church picnics and family Christmas gatherings. I assume (hope) that everyone is comforted by at least a few dishes whose smell or taste is associated with a nurturing person, happy event, or other positive memory. I believe that the recipes for dishes like these should be preserved and shared. I’ve collected cookbooks all my adult life and the ones that I look through the most reflect these things. They focus on either a particular culture or region’s food, illuminate a particular time period, or are a reflection of the author’s family.
|My grandmother, Anita (Morkovsky) Kallus, in her kitchen|
I am offering my passion for all things food, family, and history along with my writing, organization, and planning skills in service through At Memory’s Table, my new business. I want to help people record and share their own memorable dishes through a family cookbook or recipe cards, or plan a unique family reunion, or create a book or game that allows them to preserve family stories and history. The website for the business is here and I invite you to take a look. Contact me if you’re interested in my services or keep reading my blog, which I will continue with. And thank you, readers, for your kind comments over the last 8 years of this blog. Your interest and encouragement have inspired me and I am grateful.
Since this is a food blog, I offer the recipe below for the ginger cookies I mention above, made by my great aunt Bessie (Morkovsky) Kocian.
|Bessie (Morkovsky) Kocian|
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons molasses
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons powdered ginger
Put vegetable oil in a bowl, add sugar and stir. Add egg and beat until creamy. Stir in the molasses. Sift dry ingredients together and add to the mixture. Form small balls, the size of a pecan, and drop onto a plate of white sugar. Coat the ball with sugar on all sides and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees until "crinkled", then place on top shelf until slightly browned. Remove from the pan while hot and place on a rack to cool.